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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today with Senator Graham to introduce the Justice for Troops Act. This legislation offers a simple solution to a serious problem that affects the well-being of our troops and their families. Today, when service men and women face civil legal problems they often have no access to legal assistance. When these troops face such problems, like child custody issues, complications with leases, mortgage payments or credit card debt that should be protected under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or disputes over a bank account, they often have no access to legal assistance.

Without representation, troops run the risk of losing custody of their children, being evicted from their home, or facing financial ruin. This is unjust, especially when there are many lawyers willing to volunteer their services for free. The Justice for Troops Act would solve this problem by connecting service men and women with pro bono lawyers. It would do so by authorizing the Department of Defense, DoD, to use up to $500,000 of funds already appropriated for operation and maintenance to support programs that make these connections and ensure that our troops have access to the legal representation they need.

All branches of the military provide our service men and women with basic legal services on-base through legal assistance officers, Judge Advocate Generals, JAGs, but they generally cannot represent service members in court or provide legal assistance in other parts of the country. When troops encounter legal problems that JAGs are not able to handle, they are left on their own to find a lawyer. This burden can arise if a service member is stationed in one state, but his or her home, family, or bank accounts are located in another. On-base JAG officers are unable to help with bankruptcy, child support issues, and other legal challenges that arise in a different state. As the number of deployed troops has increased since 2001, the gap between their legal needs and the offerings of JAG offices has widened. In some cases, JAG officers have referred troops who cannot afford a lawyer to programs that connect them with pro bono lawyers. Other cases have been left unresolved, to the detriment of our troops, their families, and the readiness of our armed forces.

Today, there are limited services available to help troops with legal problems that cannot be handled by JAGs, but they are unable to fully meet the growing need. Some law school clinics, state bar associations, and the American Bar Association's Military Pro Bono Project connect active-duty military personnel and their families to free legal assistance beyond what military legal offices can offer. They maintain lists of attorneys who are willing to provide their services free of charge to service members and, in conjunction with the DoD, reach out to on-base JAG offices to encourage them to refer troops to their programs.

Unfortunately, these programs have a long way to go to meet the increasing demand for their pro bono legal services, and too many troops still go without legal help. Furthermore, existing programs are limited in their ability to connect troops with pro bono lawyers because funding to support them is scarce. With access to only $500,000, pro bono projects would be able to build more connections, ensure that every JAG office knows how to refer service members to the programs, and grow their databases of pro bono lawyers. This small investment would be leveraged into providing free legal assistance to countless men and women who serve our country. We will no doubt enhance our military readiness by eliminating the stress and anxiety caused by legal problems.

The Justice for Troops Act is supported by the Department of Defense, the Military Officers Association of America, the Southern Wisconsin Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, the National Military Family Association, the National Guard Association of the United States, the Wisconsin National Guard Association, the Association of the US Army, the Air Force Association, and the Gold Star Wives of America.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record

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